Veterinary Nurse Retention – should I stay or should I go?

In a recent article in Practice Life Magazine, (the joint publication of the VPMA and the SPVS) Jill Macdonald wrote about how a management approach, and how we support and nurture our veterinary nurses, can have a massive impact on their experience in practice and whether they choose to stay. This article offers a brief overview of the topics discussed.

What’s the current picture?

Retention of veterinary nurses in the profession – or maybe more importantly, in practice – has been a topic of discussion for some time. Whilst the numbers of ‘circulating’ veterinary nurses is actually on the increase (standing at just over 14k in January 2017), so is, of course, the number of veterinary practices. This effectively ‘dilutes’ nurses in practice – having a massive impact on client service, patient care, and of course the sanity of the nurses who remain – the latter issue possibly then leading to further choices to leave due to understaffing and stress.

Why do nurses leave?

The table below is taken from data provided in the 2014 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Nursing Profession, and I aim to touch on how each of these four highest ‘scorers’ might be addressed from a management perspective.
Data taken from the 2014 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Nursing Profession

Data taken from the 2014 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Nursing Profession

It’s not all about pay, but…..

So the topic of pay is often discussed between nurses isn’t it? Why are nurses, for their skill level and dedication, relatively poorly paid? Whilst this is a complex issue, there are clearly ways that we can make nurses more ‘valuable’ financially to a practice. Using nurses to their full potential, leaving vets to do stuff only vets can do; opening up opportunities for schedule 3 procedures and nurse consultations, and CHARGING for nurses’ time and expertise is a wise move both financially, and in increasing the job satisfaction and feeling of worth for both vets and nurses.

Does your practice use their nurses to their full potential?

Many nurses also have great business acumen, but are often left out of any financial decisions or revenue-creating ideas – so let them in, they have so much to offer! Also, involving them in this aspect of the business will increase financial awareness, meaning they will probably pay more attention to issues such as waste and cost of equipment and materials.
Do you have or allow an input to financial decisions in your practice?

Many nurses also have great business acumen, but are often left out of any financial decisions or revenue-creating ideas – so let them in, they have so much to offer!

Work-life balance

Now commonly cited as just ‘life balance’, management of the rota and duties can have an enormous impact on this equilibrium. Offering flexible working hours, incorporating part-time staff, and being empathic about the things that life throws at us can make such a difference, and remember, if staff aren’t so stressed, they will be happier, more productive and less likely to be sick (or leave!)
Does your practice offer flexible working hours?How’s your ‘life balance’ looking, and how can you improve it?

Career progression

It’s a biggy isn’t it? So many nurses want to have a career, not just a job – but career paths are not clearly defined in our profession. Gladly the VN Futures project promises to address this as one of their aims, but this is going to ultimately come down to practices being on board, knowing what nursing career options are available, and supporting their staff in career development. This could start at basics such as regular performance review or appraisals, giving nurses the opportunity to talk about goals, and how they might get there.
Do you have regular appraisals at your practice?Are career options discussed, and worked towards?


If you’ve been watching the Vet and VN Futures projects, you’ll be aware that this is another hot topic. But leadership isn’t just for leaders – by being part of the profession we are all leaders, and everybody needs leadership skills to help them cope with the pressures of veterinary practice, and in working with others as a team. Basic skills such as time management, delegation, communication skills and motivation will help all team members function better and more effectively, and be more resilient. Think of these skills as ‘personal development’ rather than just being about leadership, and developing these perosnal skills will help nurses (and the rest of the practicce team!)  thrive, not just survive.

Does your practice help develop team members’ leadership skills? What skills can you think of that would help YOU? What are your experiences?

So, veterinary nurse retention is a complex topic, but there are some basic management approaches that can be taken that will improve the professional lives of veterinary nurses on many levels.

We’d love to hear how your practice manages the situations above. Maybe you’re a head nurse or a practice manager – or maybe you’re one of the vets or nurses? Either way, please share your thoughts and experiences with us and your colleagues.

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The original article and this summary was written by Jill Macdonald. Jill worked in first opinion practice as a head nurse for 12 years, then at Liverpool Vet School in CPD and post and undergraduate education. She set up ONCORE with a colleague in 2011, and has a great interest in leadership, and in the activities that we can engage in NOW to secure the future of the VN profession.


VN Futures Action Group. (2016). VN Futures Report 2016. [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 10th Jan 2017]

Williams, M., Robinson, D. (2014). The 2014 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Nurse Profession. The Institute of Employment Studies. [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 11th Jan 2017]